As early as 1905 a small group of Slovak immigrants in New Castle, Pennsylvania, began planning to establish a Catholic church of their own. Most of those immigrants, hailing from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were workers in the various steel and tin mills on the South Side of the city. In early August 1908 the Reverend Frances J. Eger, the longtime pastor of German-ethnic St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in New Castle, held a meeting with close to 120 Slovak men and formulated plans to build a church. A building fund was started with married men giving $25 each and single men $15.
Soon after this meeting the Right Reverend J. F. Regis Canevin, the Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1904-1920, dispatched the Reverend James Vrhunec to assist Eger in the formation of the new church and parish. Vrhunec began holding twice a month Sunday sermons in the native Slovak language until he departed for a new assignment in June 1909. A lot was purchased along Moravia Street in the Sheep Hill area of New Castle, and plans were soon put in motion to erect a church building. Before any further plans could be made a long and bitter strike of the city’s iron, steel, and tin mill workers took center stage beginning the first day of July 1909.
In the early summer of 1910 efforts were re-initiated for the building of a new church. Construction of the wooden edifice began at the intersection of Moravia Street and Miller Street in mid-September 1910. The church was erected rather quickly and opened by January 1911. Some of the pastors in the coming years including Paul Herman, Francis Simorek, Michael Fitzgerald, Francis Baczewski, Joseph Kunc, and Ambrose Capatin. The congregation grew and the church was expanded over the years with the opening of a parsonage, parish hall, and a parochial school. The school was opened in September 1929 with three sisters overseeing 150 students. Despite its small size – it was second smallest of the twelve Catholic parishes in New Castle – the congregation thrived.
On the morning of Sunday, October 23, 1960, the congregation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of the church, with the Most Reverend John J. Wright, who served as the Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1959-1969, in attendance. The pastor at the time was the Reverend Michael E. Mihok. Following the church service a banquet was held at the Castleton Hotel that afternoon.
By the early 1960’s it was evident a newer building was badly needed. In March 1965 the Reverend George A. Kurutz arrived from Pittsburgh to take over as pastor and plans were immediately undertaken to construct a modern building at the same location on Moravia Street. Due to financial constraints, which in conjunction with low attendance led to the closing of the parochial school in June 1965, most people thought a new church was nothing but a dream. The determined church members went to work with a series of successful fundraisers, primary led by the sale of nut rolls by the ladies of the church. The small kitchen of the church was upgraded and the gamble paid off. By all accounts the amount of money raised by the congregation in a short time was nothing short of astonishing.
Demolition of the old building began in early March 1966. As soon as the debris was cleared away construction of the new church, which cost about $160,000 and designed by Youngstown-based architect P. Arthur D’Orazio (1909-2000), was begun. D’Orazio was a prolific designer of buildings throughout the region to include the local churches of St. Anthony in Bessemer and Purification of Blessed Virgin Mary in Ellwood City. The 550 or so parishioners held services in the parish hall throughout the remainder of the year. The new church, with a full basement that contained a kitchen and social hall, was completed by the end of year and was officially dedicated during a ceremony held on Sunday, April 30, 1967. Among the attendees on hand to witness the event was the Bishop John J. Wright. An afternoon banquet, presided over by the Reverend Joseph Kurutz (George’s brother), was held at the Caravan Motel on Route 422. During the banquet the Bishop remarked that the Reverend Kurutz should “run the diocese” based on his extraordinary fundraising efforts.
Joseph Kurutz had little time to admire his efforts. In July 1967 he was reassigned to take over as pastor of the St. Helen Catholic Church in Pittsburgh and to serve as a religious instructor at Villa Maria Convent near New Bedford. His brother George arrived from St. Anslem Church in Swissvale, Pennsylvania, to succeed him as pastor in New Castle. Fundraising efforts continued in earnest and the church’s mortgage was paid off in full in 1969. Joseph Kurutz departed in June 1970, when about seventy priests were given new assignments, and was replaced by the Reverend Charles N. Georgevich. The sanctuary was redecorated, which included the addition of a giant mosaic mural behind the altar, during the late summer of 1970.
The congregation of St. Michael celebrated its 75th anniversary in late 1985, but like so many so other religious institutions was experiencing a severe decline in membership. In early 1993 the Diocese of Pittsburgh announced it was closing St. Margaret Catholic Church in Mahoningtown and consolidating four other parishes in Lawrence County. One of those was St. Michael, which was merged with St. Lucy and S.S. Philip & James in New Castle and Holy Cross in West Pittsburg to form the new St. Vincent de Paul Parish. All four churches would remain open as “worship sites” and would often share the services of several pastors.
Sunday services at St. Michael Catholic Church became intermittent by fall of 2005 and were soon phased out altogether. Due to a continued decline in attendance St. Michael, S.S. Philip & James, and Holy Cross were officially closed by the diocese in early September 2007. The St. Lucy worship site in Mahoningtown, renamed as the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, remained open as the sole house of worship to serve the consolidated parish.
St. Michael Catholic Church, which always had a small but loyal congregation, proudly served the local community for over ninety-five years. The building was sold for $105,000 in early March 2008. It was subsequently remodeled to become the new home of the New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ, formerly located on East Long Avenue.
St. Michael’s Parish was established in New Castle in 1910 to serve the Catholics of the local Slovak immigrant community. A church (pictured above) was opened on Moravia Street the following year and was in service for many years. In the March 1965 the Rev. George A. Kurutz took over as pastor and led the effort to replace the aging structure. The church was soon razed and a new St. Michaels was dedicated in April 1967. Declining attendance saw the parish/church merged with several others to form the new St. Vincent de Paul Parish in 1993. St. Michael’s Catholic Church remained in active service for the new parish, but was eventually closed for good in September 2007. Full Size
The congregation of St. Michael Catholic Church celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1960 with the Bishop John J. Wright in attendance. (c1965) Full Size
The church was sold for $105,000 in early March 2008. It was subsequently remodeled to become the new home of the New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ, formerly located on East Long Avenue. The church and neighboring rectory on Moravia Street as depicted above. (May 2013) Full Size
Looking north along Moravia Street. (May 2013)
Col(Ret)Mike E. Lenhart #
Remember this building well. Attended grade school on first floor of the church for eight years. Taught by Franciscan Nuns from Pittsburgh and it was a great experience. Have always considered that foundation received at this little school to be responsible for my character and values that have driven my professional and personal life’s work. Remember Father Albert Gladdis as a wonderful church leader and a quality individual. Still think of the strong will of the slovak community that started and sustained this parish, they were a proud and dedicated group.
Sondra Churan Anderson #
I graduated from St. Michael’s School and attended church services there until 1957. My aunt use to make nut rolls in the kitchen. I still order them at Christmas and Easter. A cousin mails them to me. I remember Fr. Gladis too, nicest man. Such good memories from this place.
Darlene Churan Moody #
I attended St. Michaels School for a couple years and also attended church services there until 1957. My most precious memories are when my twin sister Kathleen Churan Scott attended Mass with our Grandmother Mrs. Elizabeth Pasterik every morning. Father Gladis was a wonderful and very deciated priest. He is remembered very fondly. Darlene Churan Moody. 04/12/2014 9:08 a.m.
Paul Rogers #
Wonderful article. My mother and Baba were members of this parish for many years. Thank you for posting.
David Churan #
I attended St Michael’s for 6 years. My favorite teacher was Sister Gabriel. We wouldt barricade Miller St. to play at recess. i remember Father Gladys and Father Mihok. Joe Shevitz and I played the accordion for the Christmas program.